Let’s talk about… bannetons

What is a banneton?

A banneton is a basket or a kind of mold you use for freeform baking. It supports your loaf while proofing. Especially softer doughs or those with weaker gluten need that support or they spread out and you have a flatbread before your loaf even hits the oven.

There are several different kinds of bannetons: rattan baskets, plastic baskets, baskets with an ornamental wooden bottom, different sizes, oblong, round, square(ish), triangles, with and without cloth liners, and molds made out of wood pulp that come in different sizes and with different patterns.
It’s a jungle out there and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be quite difficult to pick what you need. Not to mention the advertising that’s more than misleading: showing a baked loaf of bread in a banneton suggests that the bread is actually baked in the banneton, which it isn’t! I don’t want to know how many bread baking newbies had to get rid of a scorched banneton.

But let’s have a look at the different kinds:

rattan bannetons

pro:

  • they’re cheap and easy to find
  • they come in many different sizes and shapes to choose from
  • they’re lightweight
  • they often come with a cloth liner
  • they’re made from a natural product

con:

  • the raw material mostly grows in southeast asia, so even if the baskets are made locally, there’s quite a bit of travel involved.
  • you don’t know what kind of chemicals the material has come into contact with during its growign phase or during travel
  • the coils of the baskets are fastened with tiny U-shaped metal clamps which I really don’t want in my food
  • you actually need a cloth liner for softer doughs or things get stuck between the coils
  • the coils have tiny gaps where cleanup is super difficult and lingering flour or dough bits can attract tiny insects
  • the material gets brittle after a while and starts to split, tiny strands of fiber get loose and the bannetons can look pretty rough.
  • you need to season the basket (and the liner) before the first use
  • you can’t wash them
bannetons made from wood pulp (kinda a high end papermaché)

pro:

  • the wood is sourced locally here in Germany and the bannetons are made here as well
  • they’re thick (over 1 cm of material) and sturdy and will probably outlive me as long as they don’t get submerged in water
  • they’re just wood pulp. no nails, no chemicals, no extras
  • you don’t have to season them, you can just dust them with flour and use them
  • you don’t need a liner, even super soft doughs are no problem
  • no gaps where things can get stuck
  • the wood pulp sucks up a bit of moisture of the dough that’s placed in it. that means super soft, high hydration doughs form a tougher skin where they touch the banneton, that gives them more stability.

con:

  • they’re way more expensive than the rattan ones
  • you can’t wash them
  • they’re heavy compared to the rattan ones

I don’t have a plastic banneton, so I can’t show you those. The round ones look like a colander, with a pattern of ridges instead of holes. The only pro they have going for them is that you can actually wash them with water and soap. But I don’t like to use plastic if there are alternatives.

How do I season a banneton or a liner?

The rattan bannetons need to be prepped before their first use. Spray the inside evenly with water from a spray bottle and then dust it generously with flour. Turn them over, give them a pat on the backside to get the excess flour off and let them dry for about 10 minutes.

To season a liner, you also mist it with water, then dust it generously with flour. Use your hands to rub the flour into the cloth, shake the excess off and let it dry.

You need to dust banneton or liner every time before you use it.

What kind of flour should I use?

Best is a flour that is low gluten, so it doesn’t bind to the dough and sticks your bread to the basket. A lot of people swear on rice flour, I like to use whole rye for dusting. Depending on availability, I also use pure bran I have sifted off home milled flour, no matter what grain. It gives the loaves a nice, rustic look.

How do I clean a banneton if I can’t wash it?

With a brush. I have a soft one to get rid of the loose excess flour immediately and a stiff veggie brush that scrubs stuck dough out of gaps once it’s completely dry. I like to use the lingering heat of the oven after baking to dry all my bannetons and give them a bit of a thermic decontamination.
But they attract dust, so they always get brushed again before I use them.

I don’t want to spend the money for a banneton. Do I really need one?

No, you don’t need a banneton, but you need SOMETHING to support your dough during the 2nd rise if you don’t bake it in a bread pan. You can use any bowl or colander in your house, as long as you have a thin dishtowel or other plain cloth that fits it. Prep the cloth like a liner and go from there. I once baked a 4+ pound loaf of austrian farmer’s bread and let it rise in a salad bowl lined with a butter muslin.

What about rolls or baguettes? Where do I proof those? Do I need a different banneton for every shape? Or do I have to buy a baguette pan?

No, you don’t have to buy more pans or bannetons. But you might want to invest into a couche, a baker’s cloth made from heavy linen. We’ll talk about that one next week.

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